True Colors United and a plethora of other LGBTQ+ organizations have banded together to fight Donald Trump’s administration’s plan to allow homeless shelters to discriminate against transgender people.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development announced proposed changes to its Equal Access Rule July 1. Formulated when Barack Obama was president, the rule has required that people in single-sex or sex-segregated shelters that receive HUD funding be placed according to their gender identity, as transgender and gender-nonconforming people often experience harassment and violence when placed according to the sex they were assigned at birth.
But changes to the rule will mean that shelter operators will be able to decide where to place these clients, although HUD claims it will not allow discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who is notoriously anti-LGBTQ+, said in announcing the amended rule that it would better accommodate the religious beliefs of faith-based groups that run shelters.
The rule is subject to a 60-day period of public comment before it becomes final, and True Colors and its partners in the Housing Saves Lives campaign are calling on concerned Americans to raise their objections.
Homelessness is a serious problem for transgender Americans. Nearly one-third of transgender and nonbinary people experience homelessness at some point in their life, according to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, and the proportion rises to one-half for those who are Black, Middle Eastern, multiracial, or undocumented.
Before the Equal Access Rule’s nondiscrimination protections were put in place, a study by the Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center found that only 30 percent of shelters across four states would house trans women with other women, and one in five shelters would turn them away outright. Those who object to housing trans women with other women claim that trans women pose a danger, but experience has shown this is not the case. Activists dealing with domestic and sexual violence have said that serving trans women victims alongside other women is appropriate and not a safety issue.
And while discrimination is always wrong, it is particularly dangerous now, during the coronavirus pandemic, True Colors United noted in a post on its website. “Shelters are often a person’s best access-point to programs that provide safe, individual housing, a critical need during a global pandemic that endangers anyone who is forced to share living spaces with others, whether outdoors or elsewhere,” the group points out.
“Housing is a human right. The Trump administration’s proposal to weaken the Equal Access Rule threatens the rights of transgender Americans and would make shelters less safe for those most impacted by homelessness,” True Colors Executive Director CEO Gregory Lewis said in the post. “LGBTQ youth are more than twice as likely to experience homelessness than their straight and cisgender peers. Transgender youth are at especially high risk, and face unique types of discrimination and trauma while experiencing homelessness. We cannot fail them by rolling back the very policies meant to protect them.”
“This proposed rule is the latest salvo in the Trump administration’s cruel, ongoing attack on LGBTQ rights,” added Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Federal courts have consistently found that gender identity and sexual orientation are covered under the Fair Housing Act, and Secretary Carson has an obligation to uphold the law. Everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has a right to safe housing. Shelters, particularly those receiving taxpayer funds, should not engage in government-sanctioned discrimination against LGBTQ people during their time of need.”
“When transgender older people need to access homeless shelters paid for with taxpayer dollars, they have every right to know that they will be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve,” said Michael Adams, CEO of SAGE: Advocacy & Services for LGBT Elders. “SAGE condemns the Trump administration for yet another attack on the most basic rights and the dignity of transgender people. The administration cannot and should not make discrimination against transgender people optional, especially concerning housing. One in four transgender elders already experience discrimination when seeking housing, and they face disproportionate rates of social isolation, poverty, and a lack of access to critical aging services and supports. Now is the time to strengthen, not weaken, nondiscrimination protections.”
These organizations are among 40 that have joined in the campaign; others include the National Center for Transgender Equality, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, American Civil Liberties Union, Transgender Law Center, and National Alliance to End Homelessness. For updates on the campaign, including information on the public comment period and how to comment, register at HousingSavesLives.org.